Analysts divided on election impact

Officials maintain US-Israel relationship will remain as strong as ever.

dani gillerman 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
dani gillerman 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
The stinging midterm rebuke of US President George W. Bush has not been felt as painfully here in Israel, where officials and analysts maintained that the Washington-Jerusalem relationship will remain as strong as ever. Some observers, however, cautioned that the Democratic surge could affect issues important to Israel, such as the war on terror and Iran, particularly with the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We see bipartisan support for Israel. This will make no change in the special relationship between Israel and the United States," said Prime Minister's Office spokeswoman Miri Eisen of Tuesday's congressional elections. And Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman said that even when it came to Bush's posture in the war on terror, the Commander-in-Chief would continue to press ahead as he has until now. "This is a president with very strong resolve and a very deep rooted belief that he is there to lead the war against terror. It goes far beyond politics," he said, describing a philosophical, emotional and religious commitment to stopping terrorism. "I do not think the numbers will change his resolve." But former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval posited that the Democrats could cause a change in the direction of American policy towards the Middle East. Should they take either a more isolationist or multilateral approach - given their dissatisfaction with US foreign policy - it could affect Israel's position as it looks for strong US leadership against Iran's nuclear quest and radical Islam. "This could potentially have a negative affect on Israel," he said. "But I don't think this will necessarily happen, because it's one thing to say [something] in an election campaign and it's another when you have to come to grips with reality." Michael Oren, senior fellow at Jerusalem's Shalem Center, also said the Democrats could lead a "softening" of the US position on Iran and hasten a withdrawal from Iraq. The latter was one of the key campaign issues and the Democratic win is likely to add momentum to the calls for an exit strategy; Rumsfeld's departure could well be a first move in that direction. And that, Oren suggested, could be seen as a victory for Islamic insurgents and "embolden" the extremists. Former Foreign Ministry director-general David Kimche suggested that a stronger Democratic presence would be good for Israel. "It might mean they will be pressing for a much more active role for the United States," he explained, "to knock our heads together - Palestinians and Israelis - to resume the peace process. That would be very good." Kimche acknowledged that the Israeli government, less interested in being pressured by an outside element, might not see such a move in the same flattering light that he does. Even government officials, speaking anonymously, were positive about the election results. At the same time, Oren said, they should be feeling at least a twinge of anxiety, "We have been particularly close to this administration, close to an unprecedented degree. I think there must be some apprehension about what a change of parties in the American government would mean for US-Israel relations." Still, Oren and others noted that the Democratic party also included many sincere friends of Israel, who will not deduct points from Israel because of Bush's own fall. Congress has added at least six new Jews to its ranks, bringing their numbers to 13 in the Senate and 30 in the House. And several incumbents are poised to play key roles. California Representative Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, is positioned to take over the House International Relations Committee and Senator Joe Lieberman, who left the Democrat party after losing the Connecticut primary but has pledged to join the Democrat caucus, will be sought after as a swing vote and could head the Homeland Security committee. Meanwhile, House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, has a top aide who is Jewish and strongly supportive of Israel. Kimche also pointed out that Jews voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats - with a several-year high as great as 87 percent in this election according to a CNN exit poll. "Many of them are beholden to Jewish support for being elected," he said. "So I don't expect a sea change."